Baseball players have no shortage of choices when it comes to development during the summer.
One option that has caught on in the area in the last few years is summer school ball. The games offer a chance for players to sharpen their skills in a more laid-back environment. East Surry and Surry Central fielded teams this year.
“You are building your own program,” coach Chad Freeman of East Surry said. “It’s good for the younger kids. It introduces them into what you want to accomplish in your program. It gives coaches the chance to look at different things, see kids in different positions. You are always looking to try and put pieces into the puzzle. It’s like an extra practice session. Of course you want to win and play well. There are plenty of positives.”
East Surry, which had a deep postseason run this year, didn’t hold its first game until Monday night against Walkertown. Other area schools that offer summer ball include Walkertown, West Stokes, South Stokes, North Stokes, Forbush, and RJ Reynolds.
A number of players opt for travel ball, or American Legion baseball.
“We still encourage kids to go and play (Legion ball), especially the older kids,” Freeman said. “We’ve got a few kids playing travel ball on the weekends, and they still play with us a few innings during the week.”
Surry hasn’t had a Legion baseball team since 2011. Some of the local guys are playing for Legion teams nearby, such as Kernersville and Winston-Salem.
Longtime East Surry coach Barry Hall said coach Doug Welch at RJ Reynolds started the summer program a few years ago for kids who don’t play Legion ball.
Unlike Legion ball, the school summer games are more like practices. Teams play either seven or 10 innings, and the scoreboard is off. Legion ball features stiff competition and a much tougher schedule than the high school season. Instead of the Tuesday/Friday routine, Legion teams might play 20-25 games in a 30-35 day span.
Hall, who used to coach Surry’s Senior Legion team, said you see a fair share of Division I players on American Legion teams.
“We’ve got others playing Legion ball,” Freeman said. “It’s a stronger commitment. You play a lot more nights. We encourage those kids to take that opportunity. In the end that will benefit our program too.”
Some areas in North Carolina are hotbeds for Legion baseball — like tradition-rich Shelby or Rowan County.
“They are always going to have Legion baseball,” said Freeman, who played Legion ball back in the mid 1990s. “With local schools moving more toward school-based developmental summer programs, I think it would be hard for Legion to come back, but I would welcome it. It’s good competitive baseball, and it made our kids stronger.”
Logan Sheets, Seth Brim and East Surry grad Drew Wilson are playing for Kernersville. Alec “Gator” Wilson and Tyler Marion are playing travel ball.
Mount Airy’s Kenny Overfelt and Jon Cagle are playing on Winston-Salem’s team this summer. Winston-Salem and Kernersville compete in the Area III’s Northwest Conference with Davidson County and Western Forsyth.
Playing at a small 1A school, a number of guys split time in multiple sports. Lucas Koons pitched three innings Wednesday for East Surry against West Stokes before heading over to a football workouts afterward.
The summer school ball games are especially meaningful for younger players trying to grab their coaches’ attention for next season.
“Some of them are trying to earn a spot on next year’s varsity,” Hall said. “If you have a great summer, you can catch the coach’s eye, maybe move up a spot from a backup to starter.”